By Thanksgiving night, videos of brawls inside Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) stores had gone viral. An early start to the chaotic holiday shopping season proved mainly positive for the world’s biggest retailer, though protests over Walmart employees’ rights greeted many of the deal-seekers. Wal-Mart’s early Black Friday sales strategy appears to be working just fine, as the company’s PR team worked ’round the clock along with store employees.
Protests by the OUR Walmart group took place on a large scale. Salon.com reports some 1,500 demonstrations were planned by organizers, but they did little to stop the rush of Black Friday and Thanksgiving Day shoppers. It turns out holiday deal-hunters are more concerned about scoring great prices on flat-screen televisions than they are about the wages and work conditions of the employees who work in the stores.
Most headlines about Wal-Mart’s Thursday and Friday business centered on the fights among customers who were hungry to land those deals as early as Thanksgiving evening. Bloomberg reports Wal-Mart’s tactic of using quota systems cut down on the number of scuffles over products inside the stores compared to last year. However, reports of stabbings and other fights at Walmart stores were getting a lot of press.
According to Bloomberg, one man was stabbed in a fight over a parking spot outside a Walmart in Virginia while a woman was arrested in New Jersey for spitting on someone before striking her child. Wal-Mart CEO Bill Simon attributed the chaos to human nature above all else.
“Any time you get more than 22 million people together you’re going to have some behavior you’re not proud of,” Simon told reporters during a Black Friday conference call.
In fact, Wal-Mart’s communications division was working overtime along with store employees Thursday and Friday. Bloomberg reports the retailer sent out emails to journalists offering talking points and suggested questions for protesters ahead of the shopping crush. Reporters were often happy to follow the script.
The main focus of company executives was the sales, which Wal-Mart reported were brisk. Over 10 million register transactions were clocked from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Thanksgiving night, ABC News reported. These huge Thursday crowds meant Black Friday proper had less selling power.
The National Retail Federation expected a rise in holiday sales this year, outpacing even the 3.5 percent growth of last year. Though the minimum wage debate has reached the point where it’s part of the national conversation, it clearly isn’t on shoppers’ minds as they rush the gates in hope of holiday season deals. Whether they’re getting a great deal is up for debate.
Bloomberg reports that the world’s biggest retailers show higher profit margins during the holiday season than throughout the rest of the year. Behind that fact are interesting details about consumer behavior. For every deal with a big markdown, there’s a product with a big markup a shopper is likely to buy at the same time, the news agency reports. The strategy continues to work, whether doors open 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day or at 6 a.m. the day after.
With the success of this year’s early start, it’s unlikely Wal-Mart and other stores will reverse their new tradition in time for next year’s busy season. The profits will easily outweigh the brawls and the bad press that come with it.